Eric Maisel's "Van Gogh Blues" Explores
Connection and Meaning-making as Treatments for Depression
Interview by Janet Grace Riehl
Janet Riehl: Eric, what I hear
you saying is that when creative
people in particular maintain a connection to their mission or purpose
(you call it a Life Purpose Statement in "Van Gogh Blues"), a
connection to the value of their work, and their own value as creative
people in the culture, they will be stronger in their work and in their
lives. Is that a fair way to put it?
Eric Maisel: Yes. Even
before you can make meaning, you must nominate
yourself as the meaning-maker in your own life and fashion a central
connection with yourself, one that is more aware, active, and
purposeful than the connection most people fashion with themselves.
Having some ideas about purpose is not the same as standing in
relationship to yourself in such a way that you turn your ideas about
purpose into concrete actions.
Self-connection -- understanding that you are your own advocate,
taskmaster, coach, best friend, and sole arbiter of meaning and that no
one else can or will serve those functions for you -- is crucial.
I have come to believe the depression that we see in creative people is
best conceptualized as existential depression, rather than as
biological, psychological, or social depression.
means that the
treatment has to be existential in nature. You can medicate a depressed
artist, but you probably aren't really getting at what was bothering
her, namely that the meaning had leaked out of her life and that, as a
result, she was just going through the motions, paralyzed by her
Janet Riehl: Do you think
people creating in American culture have a
more difficult time making and holding meaning for themselves and their
work than creative workers in Europe, let's say?
Eric Maisel: Yes. The
very construction of European society, where
people have more days off and more freedom to sit in a café and
write, draw, dream, or chat, makes it easier for people to deeply
consider how they want to represent themselves and how they want to
make themselves proud.
That is why European movies are "more meaningful" than American movies:
our culture is dominated by the idea of happy endings and by
clichéd and superficial examinations of the facts of existence.
of our insidious pop culture, mass media, and bottom
line-driven dynamics, it is harder for a creative person here to feel
motivated to do the kind of meaningful work that is in his or her heart
Janet Riehl: Do you
find any difference between creative media in
how the process of making and losing meaning can happen? Do painters
and writers or musicians and actors have a substantially different
experience, or is the core of the experience the same?
Eric Maisel: There are
many angles to this question, but let me focus
on just two. Visual artists often produce one-of-a-kind products and
have a hard time finding it meaningful that just one person will own
that product, whereas writers can reach multiple "customers" with their
So the visual artist has to make personal sense of this issue and
figure out how to let it "still be meaningful" that her painting may
end up on the wall of a doctor's waiting room or as one among many
paintings in a collector's back room.
On an entirely different note, re-creative artists like actors and
musicians often have to deal with the feeling that they are "only"
serving the meaning needs of others -- the composer, the screenwriter,
director -- and often decide that they must also create as well as
re-create: for instance, put on a one-woman show or put out an album of
their own music.
These are just a few of the differences that arise among the different
genres and disciplines.
Riehl: On page 176 of "The Van Gogh Blues" you mention some of
the difficulties that can occur in creative communities when creators
attempt to come together and connect with one another.
You also refer to "marvels of relating," a phrase I love. What are some
steps we can take to improve our chances of giving and receiving these
"marvels of relating" within creative community?
Eric Maisel: The most
important internal movement is toward the belief
that other people exist and that other people count.
It is very easy to drift from taking sole responsibility for your
meaning-making efforts, which is good thing, to a grandiose, arrogant,
selfish, and narcissistic place where "only you count."
On the other side of the coin, if you grew up in an environment where
the messages you received were about being seen and not heard, about
blending in and not standing up for yourself, and so on, then you need
to find the courage to stand up for yourself, to maintain healthy
boundaries, and to exert your power as the meaning-maker of your own
One artist may have as his central task treating others better; another
artist may have as her central task standing up taller.
Visit Janet Grace Riehl's blog "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st
Century" at http://www.riehlife.com
for more thoughts and information
about making connections through the arts, across cultures,
generations, and within the family. You can also read sample poems and
other background information from "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" on
Article Source: http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Janet_Grace_Riehl
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Maisel, Ph.D. holds Master's
degrees in Creative Writing and Counseling, and a Doctorate in
Counseling Psychology. He is a
California licensed marriage and family
therapist, a creativity
coach and trainer of
creativity coaches, and teaches through lectures, workshops, and
Dr. Maisel is widely regarded
as America's foremost creativity coach and has taught thousands of
creative and performing artists how to incorporate Ten Zen Second
mindfulness techniques into their creativity practice. See his site EricMaisel.com
for ebooks and more information on his work.
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of more than thirty
books - some titles at right >
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Becoming a Creativity Coach
The Power of Sleep Thinking
Phoebe Starts Her Novel: 28 Secrets of the Creative Life